At just $5 a pill, ecstasy is one of the cheapest highs out there.
Unlike alcohol, you don’t need ID to get it and unlike both booze and marijuana, the smell of ecstasy does not linger.
All of those factors combine to make ecstasy an attractive drug of choice for teenagers, despite the dangers that are often laced with the drug.
“At $5 a pill you’re like ‘wow, that’s cheap,’” said Chantelle (name has been changed to protect her identity), a 17-year-old Vernon student who used to do ecstasy, or E as the drug is commonly referred to. “So I can spend $80 on alcohol this weekend or I can spend $20 on E.”
Chantelle’s first encounter with the ‘party drug’ was, well, at a party. She had already been drinking when someone offered her a pill of ecstasy. That first high, putting her in an euphoric state of ecstasy – hence the name of the drug – led to subsequent doses, gradually increasing from one to several pills in one sitting.
But a recent rash of ecstasy deaths have made her rethink her own use.
“It’s scary,” she said of five recent deaths in Calgary and two ecstasy deaths in B.C. this month alone, added to the 16 deaths across B.C. in 2011, one of which was in Vernon.
According to the B.C. Coroners Service, a lethal ingredient laced into ecstasy, an already dangerous substance, is linked to at least five ecstasy deaths in B.C. in the past six months.
A rare and dangerous chemical called paramethoxy-metamphetamine (PMMA) was detected in all five deaths. While ecstasy alone is a precarious chemical concoction, PMMA is five times more toxic than ecstasy.
“You never know what you’re getting with E,” said Chantelle, who no longer risks her life with the drug. “I’ve bought it off some sketchy people and they don’t even make it themselves.”
Such preventable tragedies have local officials asking teens and parents to ensure no one else falls victim to the drug.
“This is not some drugs you guys can be playing with,” said Doug Rogers, Vernon School District’s substance abuse prevention counsellor. “One pill could kill you.”
Dr. Chris Cunningham, who has seen tragic cases of ecstasy use right in Vernon’s own emergency department, confirms that there is no safe dose of drugs like ecstasy.
“These are drugs made in clandestine labs with resulting compounds of known and unknown impurities, created toxic compounds, and additives,” said Cunningham.
Although the drug is cleverly marketed as being cheap, long lasting and in fun and candy-like form, Cunningham says nothing could be further from the truth.
“When taking an ecstasy tablet, one really never knows what they are actually ingesting,” said Cunningham, adding the drug can also be discreetly slipped into an unsuspecting victim’s drink to harm or poison them.
“All these recent news accounts of ecstasy deaths are tragic examples of ingesting just one pill for what is thought to be a ‘fun high’ and death follows.”
According to Rogers, the Okanagan has one of the highest rates of ecstasy use across B.C.
Just looking at the ecstasy-related deaths by region from 2006 to 2011, Vernon (as well as Kamloops and Langley) recorded four deaths, the fifth highest out of 39 cities. In comparison, Kelowna had two while Vancouver had 22.
Although it appears the numbers are steadily decreasing.
B.C. recorded 20 deaths linked to ecstasy in 2010, 21 in 2009 and 23 in 2008.
At the school level, ecstasy isn’t the only substance concerning officials such as Rogers.
In fact marijuana is the No. 1 substance of choice within the schools, followed by alcohol and then ecstasy.
“Now in the U.S. legal drugs have replaced illegal drugs. That’s the next wave here,” said Rogers, admitting that it has already started with kids stealing their parent’s Tylenol 3, grinding it up and using pen casings to snort it.
While individuals such as Rogers, paired with enforcement of principals and teachers, do what they can to help prevent and cease substance abuse, the schools only have so much time with the kids.
“We only have the kids four per cent of their life,” said Rogers, encouraging parents to do what they can at home to educate and monitor kids.
“Your child’s primary teacher is mom and dad so let’s parent, let’s punch in and do the job.”